Demystifying Confusion: Commonly Confused Words in English


Man Confused About An English Word

Hello, their! I mean, there! The world of language can be quite vast and deep. The origin of most spoken languages is ancient, and it’s a complex system of syntax. Fortunately, despite the crazy curves and dead ends, there are countless resources and learnings online that can improve our knowledge of the language. Different lessons are made to help English speakers lessen their grammatical errors, such as this post. In this article, we have listed the most commonly confused words in English. Take a look, and perhaps, you’ll find a few words on the list that you often misuse as well!

Why We Must Keep on Improving Our English Skills silhouette of people with a lot of questions

On a global scale, we communicate by speaking in English. According to Lylons (2017), there are 1.5 billion people who speak English, approximately 20% of the Earth’s population. The number of English speakers continue to rise since the language has become a career advantage and gateway for network connections in the future. However, learning and using the English language can feel like entering a maze sometimes. Most people who treat it as a second language do not have the grammarian voice in their heads to guide them.

Although most of us don’t have a great understanding of its beginnings, we use English because we have to communicate. As social beings, we love to share a part of ourselves with the world. Our connections come from our communication. That’s why we must know how to relay our messages without confusing the people around us. In this article, we aim to shed some light on the pair of words that often bring confusion to the user.

Commonly Confused Words in English: Meanings and ExamplesCommonly Confused Words in English

1. Advice / Advise

Right off the bat, we think we know what these two words mean. Whenever we have a terrible day, we ask for encouraging comments from our friends or loved ones. Maybe there is even a counselor to consult with our problems. Nonetheless, we tend to exchange both words from one another. So, what is the difference?
Advice is the recommendation about what to do, while advise is the act of recommending something.

Examples:

Hey, I want to ask for your advice. (The speaker is asking for a suggestion or recommendation.)
I’m advising you to keep calm. (It implies that the person speaking is recommending something.)

2. All together / Altogether

Putting a space between the compound words can change the entire word’s meaning. So, you better look out for that. Like the first pair, these two words are usually interchanged. All together is being all in one place or all at once. The word “altogether” means completely or on the whole.

If that is still confusing, here’s an example.

The last time we were gathered all together was last Christmas. It signifies that a group of people went to a single venue all at once.
Somebody has sown the colored cloth altogether. It indicates that an object is completed as a whole.

3. Altar / Alter

This time, a change in a single letter alters the meaning of the word. It seems like a recurring theme in English, but the language’s dynamic quality makes it very confusing.
The “altar” is a sacred table in a church while “alter” refers to the act of changing. Also, the first one is a noun, while the other is a verb.

Examples:

Your email to customers sounds rude. Please alter them.
The priest looked solemn as he stands alone on the altar.

4. Bare / Bear

Which one of the words lives in the wild? The bear, of course! But I’m not talking about the wild creature here. Bear is also used in other contexts, such as describing the act of putting up with something. The word “bare” on the other hand, means to uncover.

Example:

The pain of losing my mother is too much to bear. It is about carrying or dealing with something, mostly emotion.
The canvas is bare. (It implies that the surface is blank or has nothing in it.)

5. Bough / Bow

Does every performance ends with a bough or bow? They sound almost the same. To determine which one to use, you have to make sure that you know their definition. A bough is a tree branch, while a bow is to bend the head forward.

Example:

We planned to go to the forest to hunt, but my bough broke.
The little girl bowed comically after her heartwarming dance number.

6. Brake / Break

Pump the brakes! I’m sure you have heard this line somewhere before. It usually follows a car screeching and halting before it hits something. If you have a driving license, you know that brakes are used to stop the vehicle. But a little change in the positioning of the vowels reveals a new word. A break can be used in various situations. One, it can mean shattered into pieces. For instance, “The rock can break the glass.” It shows that the glass can be shattered into pieces. The word “break” also indicates a pause.

Examples:

We will go for a long ride so make sure to check the brakes.
Don’t play ball inside. You might hit the glass and break it.
What is the time of your break? Let’s have lunch together.

7. Canvas / Canvass

Not everyone is familiar with artistic tools. Some people have a fair idea about canvases or canvas. In return, they can mistake the spelling and usage from the word “canvass.” Let’s take a closer look at what they both mean.
The canvas is a cloth that artists use for paintings or drawings. On the other hand, canvass is usually used in a political setting. It describes the act of seeking people’s votes.

At this point, it shouldn’t come as a shock that adding a single letter to a word can change its entire meaning. You have to carry on learning to strengthen your grammar skills.

Examples:

My niece is an aspiring painter, so I bought new canvasses for her as a gift.
After a heated election canvass, the Democrats believed they were in for a win.

8. Cereal / Serial

Whether it’s a bowl of cold milk or a series of something, you have to be careful on this one. If you don’t use the appropriate word, you might confuse the person talking to you. It might be easy to define cereal; in fact, it’s well-known breakfast food. A stroll around the grocery store guarantees you a glance from one or a few boxes.
But “serial” is another case. It’s about anything that happens in a series or a consecutive manner. Imagine your favorite TV shows, podcasts, and well, numbers. They are all serials.

Examples:

The serial killer is still on the loose, so you better watch the news and stay vigilant.
My little brother could eat cereals all day!

9. Climactic / Climatic

Now, we enter the movie realm, whereas the highlight peaks at the climax. Next to our movie junkie friend, we should be able to tell the correct term for that hair-raising and suspenseful scene. You have to choose between two words: climactic or climatic. It’s none other than the former, climactic. It’s the bridge to the culmination of every conflict in the movie. Meanwhile, climatic relates to anything about the climate.

Examples:

It’s no surprise the movie Titanic won a lot of film awards because of its climactic shot.
There are several climatic regions in the Philippines with dense and varying faunas.

10. Complement / Compliment

“You have beautiful eyes. I just want to complement it.” Hit pause, Smooth Talker. You just confused the word complement with “compliment.” Complement is an addition that improves something. For example, when you add extra maple syrup to your pancakes, it complements the meal. It can be even used in terms of clothing. Wearing accessories complement the outfit. Compliment, on the other hand, is simply that cute pick-up line. It’s expressing praise or approval. Next time, compliment not only the appearance but also the personality as well.

Examples:

The brown hardwood floor complements the rustic ambiance of the patio.
The shy woman blushed when the media gave her a compliment.

Commonly Confused Words in English: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

It was quite a hefty list of commonly confused words in English, but don’t let it get to you. The main takeaway is that you are learning to communicate more clearly and accurately. Learning English expands your vocabulary, and in return, you can express yourself in many ways. There is a triumph in overcoming commonly confused words in English. Taking a few seconds to think and pick your words is typical. In time, you will have an immediate sense of different contexts and the appropriate terms to use.

If you want to increase your knowledge of English, reading is the way to go. It is a fundamental activity that has no disadvantages, just pure benefits. An article by the Young Readers Foundation (2018) said, “By reading, young people encounter new words more frequently and sometimes repetitively and therefore can see them better in their context.” This notion applies to adults as well.

They say you never stop being a student even if you graduated school. There are so many things to learn about in life, especially amid the swirling confusion when speaking in English. All it takes is practice and more learning. Grab a book and read it aloud. Spot new words and search their definitions. Conquer one confusion at a time. Better yet, consult a person, classmate, or friend to practice speaking the English language. Transform commonly confused words in English into commonly used words in English.

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